Israel is at it again. Given political orthodoxy in the United States, I should probably say Israel and the Palestinians are at it again, or, more precisely, Israel and Hamas are at it again, yet the disproportion between the two sides is such that there is no equivalence. One side is offering ineffectual resistance with rockets that are striking chiefly for their inaccuracy; the other is using the most sophisticated weapons of war to terrorize a population under occupation.
As I write, Israel is bombing Gaza. Operation Protective Edge is an escalation in the rampage of violence that has been going on ever since three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped on June 12. According to the daily newspaper The Forward and other sources, the government knew almost immediately that the teenagers were killed but did not disclose that even to the teenagers’ parents. Instead, without offering evidence, it blamed Hamas for the kidnappings, detained 282 Hamas members, ransacked almost 2,000 homes, killed at least five Palestinians, including two children, and arrested hundreds of Palestinians, some of them prisoners Israel had recently freed in a prisoner-exchange with Hamas. This though Hamas denied involvement and Israel knew early on that the kidnappings were not ordered by Hamas leadership but committed by a rogue cell in Hebron, possibly in retaliation for the murder of two Palestinian youths in Beitunia by an Israeli soldier.
The murders of the three Israeli teenagers were a terrible crime for which the culprits should be brought to justice. But the violence that has been inflicted on innocent Palestinians who had nothing to do with it is monstrously out of proportion. Since the three teenagers were found, a Palestinian teenager has been burned to death by Jewish youths and Israel has launched its attack on Gaza, which as of this writing has killed over 200 Palestinians, 30 of them children, and injured 1,280. What kind of justice is that? Not for the first time, Israel seems a state out of control, led by leaders out of their minds.
Or are they? Some Israeli officials talk about “mowing the grass,” by which they refer to periodic campaigns in Gaza to destroy militant infrastructure. Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, writes that the attack on Gaza was planned long before the kidnappings, which provided the pretext that the Israeli government wanted for its attack. Others describe Operation Protective Edge as Israel’s effort to foil the new unity government between Fatah and Hamas, which, with the collapse of the U.S. peace initiative, had greater latitude from the Americans to seek international recourse.
Whichever scenario you opt for, it’s a picture of Israel on the warpath. It is not a fair fight. Israel’s defenders will say that it is just protecting its citizens from Hamas rocket fire, which began July 8 after Israel launched its Operation Brother’s Keeper against Hamas. But when the number of dead is 222 on one side and zero on the other, as it was the day before the Israeli ground invasion began on July 17, it’s a massacre. Richard Falk, a Princeton University emeritus professor of international law and until recently the much-maligned U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Palestine, has previously argued that when one country wages war on another country or population helpless to defend itself, it replicates the conditions of torture and should be considered such under international law.
Indeed, the abiding difficulty in reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is not that the Palestinians are too strong; it’s that they are too weak to induce Israel to make peace. Instead, Israel has been using the peace process as a fig leaf while it further colonizes Palestinian land.
And, really, why should Israel negotiate when it has the United States sending it billions of dollars every year to buy weapons and build settlements and blocking efforts in the United Nations to hold Israel accountable for its actions?
The pro-Israel lobby has Congress just where it wants it. Note that a bipartisan resolution has been introduced in the Senate that affirms Israel’s right to defend itself and calls for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity government with Hamas. I suspect Congress will approve the resolution 100 percent. It cannot act on behalf of Americans here at home, but it can always support Israel.